The pitcher is not only the most important position in baseball, but also the most physically demanding. There’s a reason why pitch count was introduced and why pitchers don’t play every game. Pitching requires you to put almost every muscle and joint in your body to work. Repetitive throwing motions particularly put a lot of strain on arms, elbows, and shoulders. So, being prepared and properly warmed-up is the key to performing at an optimal level and staying healthy.
Stretching exercises, although often overlooked, are crucial in warming up all important joints and muscle groups and preventing injuries and muscle pulls. By doing them, you’ll ensure that your body is in peak condition for the entire 3 hours of a baseball game.
Here are some of the best stretches for pitchers that can be included in a pre-practice or pre-game routine and explain how to perform each of them.
1. Shoulder Circles
This is a rather basic and simple starter exercise, but still, the one that will get the upper part of the body moving and working. It works perfectly to kick off your stretching routine before moving on to more demanding stretches and get your shoulders to loosen up and ready for throwing drills. Due to its simplicity, it’s great and safe even for the youngest kids. You can combine it with some casual throwing, preferably with lighter and softer types of balls, such as reduced injury factor baseballs.
The basic position is with feet apart at shoulder width and arms at your sides in a relaxed manner. Once set, start making circular motions with your shoulders, moving them up and back. The arms and the head should stand still. First, do the forward circles and then change it up.
2. Arm Circles
Everything said for shoulder circles, also goes for this stretching exercise. It’s also very simple and starts in the same position with arms to the side of the body. The only difference is that circular motions are made with the entire arms, instead of only the shoulders. The arm motion made during this exercise is very similar to the one made when throwing a baseball. You should start with small circles and then gradually make them bigger.
3. Triceps Stretch
For this type of stretch, you’ll need a towel, band, or anything similar with a bit of length to it. Take the chosen item in one hand, put your arm behind the back and over the head and drop the towel or the band down the middle of the back. With the other hand, firmly squeeze the other end around the area of the middle or lower back. Then gently pull, thus stretching the triceps of the arm currently positioned over your head. When you reach the peak point of stretching, let the shoulder of the stretched arm sag and slowly exhale. This will help shoulder and arm muscles relax and gain flexibility. When the shoulder and the triceps are properly relaxed, you should be able to interlock your fingers while your arms are in this stretching position.
4. Chest Stretch
Chest stretching can be done in two ways, with or without a partner. When working with a partner, first raise your arms away from the body in the sideways direction. Lift them all the way up to the height of your shoulders and make sure your palms are turned forward. The partner should stand behind you, hold your wrists, and pull each arm back at the same time. While this exercise is very useful for muscle relaxation, you shouldn’t push too hard. Ten-second stretches are more than enough, pulling arms any longer may put you at a risk of an injury.
You can also do chest stretching by yourself, but you’ll need a doorway of a similar kind of structure. While standing in a doorway, put your entire arm along the door frame. If you’re doing this properly, your elbow should be at a height of the shoulder, forming a 90-degrees angle with the body. With the opposite leg, take a small step forward, lean against the wall, and rotate your body to the side of the leg you’ve moved forward. At this moment, you should feel your chest and shoulder muscles stretching. Stay in this position for about 20 seconds, and repeat the process for the opposite side.
5. Cross-Body Stretch
The cross-body stretch is great for athletes whose shoulder muscles are prone to tightness due to the overhead movement, so they’re great for baseball pitchers. This exercise involves bringing your arm across the body and holding the elbow with the opposite hand. Then, the arm should be slowly pushed against the chest up until the point you feel the back of the shoulder stretching. Hold the position for approximately 20 seconds and then do the same with the opposite arm.
Alternatively, you can stretch the same group of muscles lying down. To do this, lie down on the side and keep the knees and the hips bent. The shoulder and the elbow should be positioned at a 90-degree angle. Similar to when doing this exercise standing up, grab the elbow and gently pull it across the body. Each of these stretching exercises should be repeated 2 or 3 times during a stretch routine.
Stretch to Avoid Injury
A lot of injuries on the baseball field can be avoided just by doing simple stretch routines before every game or practice. So, it’s important that both players and coaches take these exercises seriously and don’t ignore arm and shoulder health, especially in the case of young pitchers. Plus, stretching can be a useful tool in the recovery process, as it helps elongate muscles and increase range of motion.
Besides injury prevention, proper stretching can help pitchers with their throwing accuracy and ball velocity. If you regularly measure ball speed with a baseball radar gun, you’ll definitely notice the positive impact of regular stretching routines. Another great thing about these exercises is that they’re useful for not only pitchers but also other position players. Infielders, outfielders, catchers, and basically any athlete that needs to maintain flexibility in shoulders and elbows stand to benefit from stretching before the game.
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